Since the mid-90s, Arts students at McGill have been required to fulfill the requirements of both a major and minor in order to graduate. This, along with several other components of the Arts degree program, may soon change if the proposals from a Dean of Arts Working Group are implemented. While the recommendations are not final or binding, they have instigated discussion and could have a serious impact on future McGill students.
The proposed changes are in response to a number of issues. Andre Costopoulos, Associate Dean of Arts and head of the working group, said that due to increasing enrollment, decreasing administrative support, and flat academic hiring, there is more pressure on students, professors, and administrators.
“If we keep doing things exactly the way we are doing them now, we are going to be affected by those pressures,” Costopoulos said. “So what we need to do is see how to organize ourselves in order to meet our academic objectives.”
Costopolous was directed by the Office of the Provost in fall 2010 to establish a group to study these pressures and recommend how to address them. The group consists of students, faculty, and other university personnel and its suggestions were made public to both faculty and student societies in February.
According to the draft proposal, the major areas affected by changes would be the first-year program, advanced standing credits, and the mandatory minor for all Arts students. The first year program would focus on teaching students certain skills, like essay writing, that are necessary for success later in the Arts program.
According to Costopoulos, eliminating the mandatory minors would prevent students from being forced to complete a program in which they are not interested.
“We end up in a situation where we have essentially service minors—minors that exist because students have to take them. Academically, that doesn’t make sense,” Costopoulos said.
If mandatory minors were eliminated, Costopoulos said, students would still be free to pursue a minor, but they would also be able to pursue course configurations that do not fit into the current program configuration.
The final change under discussion would allow students to decline advanced-standing credit during their U1 year, permitting them to complete a full four year program of study at McGill. Devon Willis, a U3 joint honours political science and environment and international development studies student and member of both the working group and the Arts Undergraduate Society Council, thought this would be a positive change. As a CEGEP student, she felt that only three years at university was not long enough.
“Just because students did CEGEP, or did advance credits, does not mean that university is any less foreign to them,” Willis said. “It takes adjusting no matter whether you have those 30 credits from high school, or two years experience at a CEGEP.”
In describing the original aim of the working group, Willis said the goals were to “cut costs, [and] to streamline the Arts degree to make the administrative costs lower. However, all the professors and councillors in the [working group] were very idealistic in their desire to improve the undergraduate experience.”
Amara Possian, an Arts senator, said she was impressed with the way in which the proposals were handled.
“I’m really happy with the process,” Possian said. “The associate dean sat down and asked himself ‘Who needs to be part of this discussion?’ [He] brought them all in, put them in a committee, and then spent months drafting suggestions.”
Both the members of the AUS and Costopoulos cautioned that none of the suggestions were certain to be implemented and, if any were adopted, they could take years to be instituted. However, Costopoulos said “Some of them (the changes, specifically the dropping of the mandatory minor) could be implemented as early as September if the Arts faculty accepts them.”
All stressed the need for student input on changes.
“It’s really important that students speak to the students who are sitting on these committees if they have any huge problems with the changes,” Possian said.